Saturday, October 11, 2014

What I Think Church Should Be

Tonight I met a man who really made me think about what I am doing with my life, and why. His name is Paul, and he left Pennsylvania to relocate to New Mexico, on a recumbent bicycle, with a tiny trailer.
In the course of our conversation, I questioned myself a lot, as to why I do what I do, and what I really want to do. Some of you know that up until five years ago, I passionately chased a dream to own and direct my own theatre company. The reality of eight kids and our daily expenses made it impossible to keep going, so I had to reluctantly let it go, and have been somewhat adrift ever since.
For nearly twenty years, I have been self-employed in some form or other, often multiple forms at a time, and I do enjoy the freedom of it, but of late, the idea that there is something bigger I should be spending my life at is almost inescapable.I know, if you go back through this blog, you will find this as a theme.
I have also written about the fact that I have believed since youth, that God is calling me to full time ministry,  but there are several dilemmas in that that I am wrestling with, even as I write this. So, at the risk of oversharing, here it is in a nutshell:

First, on more than one occasion in my life, it has been said to me that there is a call on my life to lead people in serving God. I have never disagreed with this, and actively pursued it up until my early thirties, when I all but gave up due to many, many disappointing and hurtful experiences with "christians".
I have all but given up on the institutional church and am not at all sure what Christ intended, but I am pretty sure that none of what I have personally experienced, in my highly varied church experience is it. I have seen shadows of it, in bits and pieces, but most of what I see that matches up with his His "invisible kingdom" is the fringe stuff that happens unintentionally in church communities from time to time,and generally gets shut down once it is recognized.
The church I see when I read the gospel is an ethereal thing. It does not look the same in all places, and does not serve in the same way each time it appears. It is a patchwork quilt of personalities and ideas that seem to flow into one another almost randomly, not a codified, systematic belief system that can be explained and memorized and charted by anyone willing to sit in a lecture hall long enough to hear all of the explanations surrounding it.
To begin with, all of the recorded words of its founder could fit between the pages of a single modern novel, yet the books that explain it fill libraries. It is, at it's core, the simplest philosophy that has ever been recorded, Love God with everything you are and share that love with everyone you meet. But, we are inclined to more complicated belief systems, and so we add definitions and explanations. We explain the whole thing to death and insist on our way of understanding it as the only way, while millions of others insist the same thing.
We say we believe in a salvation of Faith, through Grace, and that works cannot save, but then we build lists of Thou Shalts,and Shalt Nots that put the Levetical law to shame for its brevity. In truth, even if taken at its most literal, there are very few things that scripture dictates against, and many of those never even enter into the conversation when it comes to modern "righteousness".
So, I am going to be inviting anyone who wants to come, to meet with me on a regular basis to study and discuss what church should be, and what seeking the kingdom first is really all about, with no preconceived notion of what that "looks like", or what will become of it. Here are ten things I think the church should do, based on my reading of the teachings of Jesus.
  1. The church should welcome anyone who comes to them, whether they openly claim to seek God, believe in a specific doctrine, or don't do either of those, period.
  2. The church should give without thinking to gain in return, and this includes gaining by seeing their gift used wisely, there should be no gift in one hand, list of rules for finding a deserving receiver in the other.
  3. The church should understand that their best explanations of who and what God is are all based on metaphors and figurative language, and should be willing to hear others experiences with an open heart and an ear to the spirit of discernment.
  4. The church should spend at least as much time on promoting righteousness, and being decent citizens of the planet as it should spend on "combating evil" and "hating sin" Our example of love should be our main attraction
  5. The church should be a place of refuge for the weary, regardless of their past, present, or future. We should not love until we believe we have exhausted all avenues of convincing someone to "accept Jesus" we should be about 70x7 for the same offense in a single day
  6. The church should be about peace on a personal, community, national and global level, period. We should not glorify, or condone violence for violence, since our savior taught us that this is no longer the way
  7. The church should not seek political solutions to spiritual problems. PS, every problem on this planet, according the book you claim to believe in, is spiritual at its root. We should be salt and light, we should strive to preserve, and enlighten in all times, in all places.
  8. The church should not make decisions based on numbers, or money, since Jesus taught that we cannot serve both God and the world's wealth. The church should work to support its members,and not always the other way around, as the example was given in the first century. 
  9. The church should be led by its members, not dependent on "professional christians" to carry out its work. The word "pastor" is mentioned in the NT once in a list of other leaders that included apostles, prophets, teachers, and preachers. A plurality of interdependent leadership, accountable to the body is what is indicated in scripture, not one man who speaks for God. That system died at the cross, there is now one intermediary, and he is not among us in the flesh.
  10. The church should strive to be revelational, not relevant. We are to be the ones who show people what life is really all about, and that does not mean just singing songs and reading our favorite verses, it means working to complete the great commission, which is an extension of the commands given to the first Adam, to fill the earth and have dominion over it. THIS DOES NOT MEAN TO HAVE CONTROL THROUGH A POLITICAL OR RELIGIOUS INSTITUTION it means we are responsible to God for the condition of this planet and its people, and we are directly responsible to love on the lives we come into contact with in any way possible. Love is contagious, and we should be about the business of infecting as many as possible.

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